WASHINGTON, D.C. — I will admit to a certain amount of Canadian smugness when the local news first started talking about a major blizzard hitting Washington.
I figured I had seen all winter might ever have to offer. I had my space suit-sized parka, five pairs of boots and every piece of cold weather headgear known to man. Besides, I figured being in ‘the south’ (that’s anything below the Pennsylvania-Maryland border) offered some sort of arctic immunity.
Five days before the storm, the local weather anchor stood in front of a giant graphic that read, in all capital letters, “DON’T PANIC”.
By Wednesday night, panic had actually started to set in. What my Canuck sensibilities lacked was any understanding of how everyone else would deal with the looming blizzard.
D.C. was getting ready to shut down and no one knew when things might return to normal.
This wasn’t Canada where heavy snow might slow things to a crawl for a day or two. This was a city that was about to get more snow, in one shot, then it would typically see in an entire winter and then some — and then some more.
Suddenly, grocery store shelves were running empty as the lines to the cash register snaked all the way back to the meat department.
Gas became scarce and the governor of Maryland warned people to have five days of supplies on hand.
There was no guarantee of power, water or even rescue.
This was a real emergency, we were told, and we had best be prepared to go it alone for several days.
I had never heard a message like that for a snow storm at home. It was hard not to be worried.
By the time the first flakes started falling on Friday, the city had cleared out. The federal government shut down at noon and buses and subways were being pulled out of service. Everyone had been told to get off the roads.
The storm howled all night and when I woke up Saturday the forecast had held true. There was a good 40 centimetres on the ground, with another 20 to come before it was all over.
At the height of the blizzard, we ventured out for a walk. The sidewalks were blocked and the roads empty. We hunkered down at the only restaurant that was open for a few hours of gazing into the wintry abyss outside.
By Sunday, the snow was gone, the sun was out, and the streets had turned into a chilly carnival: children on sleds, parents on skis, and touch football in the park.
The grocery store reopened, even though its shelves were still bare from days of panic buying.
Sure our car was stuck in a snow bank, but so was every other car in the city. The neighbourhood got together to start digging. Families marched down the street with shovels to dig out anyone who needed a hand.
This was exactly how any Canadian city would cope with the same situation. Taking a page from Toronto, Washington even called in the army – well, in this case, the National Guard.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a disaster. We never lost power or heat and we didn’t come close to running out of food.
We had prepared for almost every eventuality and, in the end, it was just a fun weekend in the snow.
After all that I was no better off than anyone with less winter experience. My Canadian skills were only called upon once, by American co-worker who asked for advice on which snow shovel to buy, but there was nothing to feel smug about.
Winter is a relative concept and it’s hard to imagine any city dealing with 60 centimetres of snow well.
“Snowzilla” turned out to be the monster they predicted.
What I would never have expected was that living in at city as unprepared as Washington, made me more prepared for winter than I have ever been.
© 2016 Shaw Media